Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Relationship Corner: The Wedding Isn't Important

I know, it's like I'm asking for hate mail. I got your attention, though, and before you start passing out the torches and pitchforks, allow me to clarify. While the wedding day is indeed important, it is the least important day in your marriage. If you're not approaching your wedding with that attitude, you're in for some trouble.

Let me ask you this: why are you getting married? Is it because you want to get married, or do you want to be married? These are two very different motivations, and the success of your marriage depends on which one you prioritize.

Sadly, a lot of woman, and men for that matter, emphasize the getting married part. Far too often I encounter women who dream about that wedding day, and have done so for many, many years. It’s what they live for, the chance to be the center of attention and princess for a day.

But that’s what they forget: it's only one day. Out of the thousands of days of your life, you’re only focusing on one, and that can be a huge problem, because that day isn’t as important as you think it is. Why do you think we are both appalled and entertained by Bridezillas? These are women who go absolutely crazy trying to make their day perfect no matter the cost: money, friendships, their fiance's thoughts and feelings. They are so focused and obsessed with this day that they can’t see any day beyond it.

Part of this attitude comes from the wedding industry, convincing brides that if you don't spend ten grand on the perfect centerpieces you'll be divorced in a year. As soon as you enter any bridal shop, as soon as you visit a website or pick up a magazine, you’ll be bombarded from all angles about why it’s a terrible wedding if you don’t spend the GDP of Paraguay on this one day.

That’s what everyone forgets. This is just one day. One tiny little day that will be over before you know it. In fact, many of my now-married friends told me that they barely remembered their wedding day. It was a blur to them, as they were so caught up with the emotion of it all, not to mention the stress, that they have a hard time recalling specific details. One of my friends didn't remember seeing me there, even though I spoke to her several times at her wedding.

Such a big day, and it's possible you'll barely remember it. It can be a pretty big shock to the system when an event you've been waiting for, perhaps all your life, is over before you know it. Your life has been lived in constant anticipation and it can leave you feeling depressed as you try to figure out what's next.

There's a term for what often happens to newlyweds: post-wedding depression. It's similar to the depression astronauts feel after they've come back down to earth. They've lived their dream, now what? Same thing for brides (and grooms) because you've been on cloud nine for months (if not longer) planning this event. You've been the center of attention as everyone kowtows to your wants and needs because you are "the Bride." It's a great feeling, to be sure, but it ends, and that's hard to deal with.

It can be even worse if you Bridezilla'd your way though the wedding, alienated everyone you care about, and now realize that you don’t have any relationships left. You need the support of friends and family to keep a marriage going. Even when things are going well, having healthy outside relationships is good for your marriage. Because even the healthiest of marriages have their issues, and the ones that can survive have two things: good support and forward thinking. Sacrificing your future happiness for your "perfect day" isn't a smart move, nor is beginning a marriage relationship with no emotional support structures left in place. Again, it all comes back to priorities and realizing that time goes on after the wedding.

Far too many marriages end because no one involved thought about what happens next after the wedding. Remember, the entire point of being "the bride" is to one day become "the wife." You may have thought long and hard about the day you make that transition, but have you thought about any of the days that come after? Those days are going to be harder. They're going to be less fun. And they're going to be more important.

The wedding is not the most important day of your marriage because that's not the day that determines whether or not your marriage remains intact. That day comes months or years later. You have an argument about money. You have a crisis at three in the morning. One or both of you is sick. You are tempted to say or do something you'll regret. How you decide to handle that moment is way more important than the groomsmen's matching shoes. The ground rules you establish for your arguments are a lot more critical than whether you go with a live band or a DJ.

In the Back to the Future movies, Doc Brown always chided Marty for not thinking "fourth dimensionally." Marty only saw the present, but Doc saw that the present would turn into the future, and Marty needed to take that into account. This is what I'm saying about weddings. That day ends and your wedding becomes your marriage. Think fourth-dimensionally and plan for it.

Let me ask you this, those of you getting married: how much time have you spent planning your marriage? Have you discussed your finances? Life insurance? Wills? Who does what chores? Where will you spend the holidays? How often will you have sex? How you will argue when conflict arises? How many children do you want and when? How will you raise the children? How will you keep your in-laws from meddling? What church will you attend? What church won't you attend? Where are you going to put all your stuff? What kind of vacations do you like? Where will you grocery shop? What are your retirement plans?

I could go on and on, which is my point. A lot of marriages fall apart because the couple was so giddy to throw on the white dress and tuxedo that they forgot about what happens after. Or they don't care. Or they just don't want to deal with it and get so caught up in the wedding that they ignore the bigger issues. But as we all should know, ignoring issues doesn't make them go away, and when you ignore them, they can get bigger and worse. It can be quite a nasty surprise when you get back from your honeymoon and find your issues still waiting for you.

This article, which I've referenced before, covers the kind of things you should think about before you get married. It has nothing to do with flowers or place-settings, but what it really means to join yourself with someone else. It isn't the most romantic list out there, but that's the point. While enjoyable, romance is window dressing. If you want your marriage to last, you need to think practically. Are the two of you truly compatible? Do you know each other well enough to get married? Are you both mature enough to get married? These considerations are important, even though they aren't as much fun as tasting wedding cakes.

I realize that this article makes me sound like I'm against weddings: I'm not. I'm just in favor of good relationships and marriages, and I've seen the damage that wedding obsession can wreak. When I see a couple put in just as much, if not more, effort planning their future together as they do the wedding, it fills me with joy. That makes the day a lot more special, because I know it's leading to something great for them.

Having a proper perspective can help you survive or avoid post-wedding depression altogether. A lot of people will tell you that the wedding should be the happiest day of your life, and I find that notion appalling. I don't want the happiest day of my life to have happened over nine years ago. I want the happiest day to be ahead of me, with my wife, as we embark on yet another adventure. When you see the wedding as just the beginning, and not the end, you'll lay the groundwork for a better marriage.

Of course, you might be wondering what my wedding was like. It was small, and by small, I mean there were eight people total, including myself and my wife. We were just out of college and faced a choice: pay for a wedding or use that money to build a life together. We chose the latter, and I haven't regretted it for a moment. We also made a point to talk about what we wanted our marriage to be like once married. We didn't think of everything (who can?) but what we did was lay the groundwork for how we've managed our marriage these nine plus years.

My wife and I have had many important days, and we have many more ahead of us. I just know that of all the days in our marriage, our wedding was the least important. The most important day, as well as our happiest, is yet to come. And because we've put in the effort, we're ready for it.

Just to be clear, I'm not anti-wedding. I wrote a followup article about the virtues of weddings and how to do them right. Read it here.

Previous Relationship Corners
The Dangers of Soulmates

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